SHIPLEY, William (1778-1820), of Bodrhyddan, Flint.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



21 Jan. 1807 - 1807
1807 - 1812
1812 - Apr. 1813

Family and Education

b. 25 Nov. 1778, 1st s. of Very Rev. William Davies Shipley (d.1826), dean of St. Asaph, by Penelope, da. and coh. of Ellis Yonge of Bryn Yorkin, nr. Wrexham, Denb., event. h. of her gt.-gdfa. Sir John Conway, 2nd Bt., of Bodrhyddan. m. 13 Nov. 1806, Charlotte, da. of Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, 4th Bt., of Wynnstay, Denb., 1s. 1da.

Offices Held

Lt. 85 Ft. 1794; capt. ind. co. Ft. 1794, 104 Ft. 1795; capt. 54 Ft. 1795, maj. 1803; maj. 6 Ft. 1804, 32 Ft. 1804; brevet lt.-col. 1806; lt.-col. 14 Ft. 1806; sold out 1807.


Shipley’s father, the dean of St. Asaph, was celebrated equally for his Whig principles and for his pluralism.1 Through his mother he was heir to the Conway estates in Flintshire and connected with the Grenville family. He entered the army, served in Ireland during the rebellion and was subsequently wounded in Egypt. In North Wales he belonged to the Wynnstay circle and when Lady Williams Wynn’s brother Lord Grenville became prime minister in 1806, Tom Grenville, who was looking for a private secretary at £300 p.a., informed his brother the Marquess of Buckingham, 8 July:

If Shipley had been ours, and was not in the army, and was resident with his wife in London, I might naturally have thought of that: but at present it would not answer for him to quit his profession for a small salary and an expensive residence in London, even if he was grown our nephew.2

A marriage was being settled between Shipley and one of the daughters of Wynnstay: her brother Henry, when he heard of it at Berlin, wrote: ‘I cannot say anything of Shipley as I know so little of him, but ... find a more quiet gentlemanlike man’.3

The marriage was postponed to enable Shipley to make his political debut. On 19 Oct. 1806 his future mother-in-law wrote: ‘I have just heard of Mr Williams’ intention of resigning Flint and trying to place his nephew Shipley in his place’: she was ‘most anxious for his success’.4 Two days later Lord Grenville was acting on Shipley’s behalf, but the sequel was embarrassing: Sir Stephen Glynne, who stood in exactly the same relationship to Lord Grenville as Shipley, also contested Flint and he and Shipley were defeated. His bride-to-be wrote, 9 Nov. 1806, ‘I think that had Colonel Shipley been thinking less of Wynnstay and its inhabitants, he would have had a much better chance of success ... I do not however quite despair ... it is a great object to me that he may get a seat in Parliament.’ Shipley’s ‘excellent temper and excellent principles’ endeared him to the Wynnstay family.5

Shipley was found a seat not long afterwards when there was a vacancy in the Marquess of Buckingham’s borough of St. Mawes and supported government. In his maiden speech, 12 Mar. 1807, ‘from his experience in his own regiment’, he assured the House that the quality of recruits was good. At the general election, retaining his option on St. Mawes, he again contested Flint, as an avowed supporter of the outgoing administration, and though Lord Grenville thought it more judicious to remain neutral as Sir Stephen Glynne was again his opponent, he headed the poll.6 In his address he said, ‘it was not a seat in Parliament I wanted, for of that I was already possessed: but I aspired to be the representative of my native borough’. He supported Brand’s motion against the new ministry, 9 Apr. 1807, and on 30 June criticized the proposed changes in the composition of the finance committee: in fact he became a partisan opponent of the Portland and Perceval administrations. On 2 May 1808, primed with information by his brother-in-law Charles Williams Wynn,7 he registered a ‘decided protest’ against the local militia bill, complaining that each succeeding administration had its own military system: this one was both expensive and compulsory. Compulsion, he added, was the principle of ministers:

violence was their prime and actuating principle: they supported commerce by throwing every impediment in its way: they exalted the army by conscription and by infamy; they raised England by depressing the spirit of her people; and conciliated Ireland by putting bigotry in office, and decking out intolerance in laurels.

On 24 May 1809, Shipley, who had voted against the Duke of York’s conduct of army patronage in March, moved that Lord Burghersh* had been appointed major in his regiment in preference to his seniors in defiance of army regulations and that the latter should be produced to prove it: his motion succeeded by 72 votes to 67 and he congratulated the House on thus embarrassing the government. Listed ‘present opposition’ by the Whigs in 1810, when he voted for parliamentary reform, Shipley, in the debate on the preservation of the public peace bill, 10 July 1812, gave examples of atrocities committed in Ireland during the rebellion. He had supported Stuart Wortley’s motion for a stronger administration on 21 May, after being absent until April that session.

By 1812 the Grenville clan were somewhat disillusioned about the gawky butterfly they had netted with such enthusiasm: Tom Grenville found him no company, ‘entirely engrossed by the grouse’ (26 Aug. 1810) and, while at Stowe, 3 May 1812, ‘there is nobody here but Shipley, O’Connor and the Arundels’. On 6 Sept. 1812 he wrote to Lord Grenville:

My brother [the Marquess of Buckingham] and I agree that it was much better for Shipley to be a country gentleman than to be in the London clubs, where he has not the command of himself against the dangers of play that he ought to have. My brother was therefore much inclined not to keep St. Mawes for Shipley, but to offer it to Tierney.8

Shipley, who could not think of contesting Flint and whose father’s scheme to have him returned for Beaumaris on Lord Bulkeley’s interest failed, was none the less returned for St. Mawes at the 1812 election: his gambling debts made it essential. He owed £34,000 and his father proposed that he should ‘go abroad for a short time and hold out a design of joining the army which would probably intimidate [his creditors] into an immediate acceptance of any terms’, but his wife ‘resolutely’ opposed his entering the Spanish army. Yet he derived ‘neither pleasure or profit from Parliament’. Tom Grenville, as his price for obtaining it from the marquess, had insisted that Shipley’s return for St. Mawes was not to be ‘an evasion of his creditors’, and that it must be a temporary arrangement. Shipley must make ‘a written declaration’ that he would vacate the seat ‘on the 15th day of April next’. On 17 Jan. 1813 Tom informed Lord Grenville that ‘under the present circumstances of Shipley’, the marquess did not wish to hamper himself by promising the seat at St. Mawes to anyone, but he negotiated with Francis Horner* soon afterwards. Shipley, after voting for Catholic relief on 2 Mar., vacated, having decided to retire to Majorca, at a safe distance from his creditors: not from his mother-in-law, who went in 1814 to visit her unhappy daughter.9

Shipley proceeded in 1815 to Aix-en-Provence and died at Hyères, 29 Nov. 1820 in his 43rd year. He was shooting at the time, attended by ‘a peasant of the place who also carried a gun. Mr S. had killed a bird and was getting over a bank to pick it up. The man following with his gun cocked, it unfortunately went off within two or three yards of Mr S. and lodged its contents in the back of his head.’10 His wife was restored to the bosom of her family; their only son inherited Bodrhyddan on the death of his grandfather the dean in 1826.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. He was son of Jonathan Shipley, bp. of St. Asaph; see DNB.
  • 2. Buckingham, Court and Cabinets, iv. 47.
  • 3. Corresp. of Lady Williams Wynn, 99.
  • 4. Ibid. 106.
  • 5. Fortescue mss, 21, 23 Oct. 1806; Corresp. of Lady Williams Wynn, 116; NLW mss 2790, Lady to H. Williams Wynn, 19 Oct. [1806].
  • 6. Buckingham, iv. 170, 171; Fortescue mss, 26 Apr., 2 June 1807.
  • 7. NLW mss 10804, Williams Wynn to Shipley, 23 Apr. 1808.
  • 8. HMC Fortescue, x. 57, 243, 295.
  • 9. Add. 42058, f. 208; NLW mss 2791, C. to H. Williams Wynn, 15, 31 Aug., 20 Sept., H. E. Cholmondeley to same, 24 Aug. [1812]; NLW, Coedymaen mss 1/27; HMC Fortescue, x. 329; Corresp. of Lady Williams Wynn, 15.
  • 10. Gent. Mag. (1820), ii. 572.